Does this sound familiar? You’ve eaten your dinner, you feel satisfied, but then soon you find yourself rummaging through the cupboards looking for something, anything to put in your mouth. Chips, cookies, chocolate chips, even that stale twizzler’s that’s been hiding up on the top shelf for nearly a year. You don’t even know why you are eating, but you can’t seem to stop yourself, and the harder you try, the harder it is to resist.
If this is something you are struggling with, let me tell you, you are not alone. I’ve worked with many clients over the years who have struggled with and overcome the night time munchies, so don’t despair because no matter how deeply intrenched this habit feels, there is an incredibly simple solution that will make the process of changing this habit infinitely easier.
Often, the reason why we struggle with overeating later in the day is related to what happens the whole day leading up to that time. Here are a few things to consider:
Did you under eat during the day?
A lot of the times I find that people under eat during the day, and their bodies are truly requiring more nourishment than they are getting. Maybe you’re skipping meals unintentionally, or your purposely eating less to try to lose weight. Unfortunately, too much under eating during the day tends to lead to overeating at night, meaning stalled weight loss or even weight gain. (note: many people who say “I barely eat anything and still can’t lose weight” are struggling with this phenomenon).
Take a look at your overall meal patterns and see if it is serving you well enough. Are you skipping meals? Are you eating enough to feel satisfied and have good energy until your next meal? Are you ready to gnaw your own arm off at dinner time? You may need to increase your nourishment during the day to avoid the rebound overeating at night.
Did your day require a heavy dose of willpower?
If you’ve found yourself saying “no” to a lot of foods throughout the day, you may find by the end of the day you run out of “no’s” and start saying “yes” to everything. If you are faced with cookies, and donuts, and pizza, and many many food choices throughout the day, and find yourself rocking the healthier choices, you may be setting yourself up for a complete willpower meltdown once you get home at night.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stop making good choices throughout the day, instead, focus on engineering your environment and building stronger habits that drastically decrease the number of decisions you have to make each day.
What’s really bugging you?
Once we rule out these two things, it’s time to look at the other reasons why we tend to be mysteriously drawn to the snack bags after 8 pm.
Here are the three biggest reasons:
- Boredom— you’ve finished dinner, sat down in front of the TV, and you just need something to do with your hands. So popcorn is the answer. Or, you find there is nothing good on TV, and go searching the cupboards to entertain yourself until bed time.
- Habit— Every night you eat a handful of snacks before bed. It’s just something you do all the time and not doing it feels as strange and foreign as not sleeping with a pillow.
- Emotional avoidance— you’ve had a rough day, your boss yelled at you, your kids yelled at you, and you’re still yelling at yourself in your head. You don’t want to feel icky anymore, so you reach for a little somthin somthin to boost your mood.
While there may be other reasons for the night time munchies, the above three are the most common and most likely. But knowing what is causing this is only the first step, the next is taking action to overcome these behaviors. You may have already considered finding an alternative, something fun to do instead, but here’s something you probably haven’t considered:
The simple trick for ending night time overeating
When you’re feeling tempted by the night time munchies, delay the decision of whether or not to eat by 15 minutes. This step is crucial because it changes the way we think about the decision itself. When we’re in the heat of the moment and really really wanting to inhale all of the pringles in the house, two different voices are screaming at us in our brain:
voice #1: the three year old saying “I want this NOW”
voice #2: the inner food shamer saying “If you eat that it will go straight to your butt”
It’s really hard to make a good decision with these two crazy cats screaming at you, so the goal is to silence them BOTH.
The trick is to wait 15 minutes and delay the decision of whether or not to eat. Leave it up in the air:
I might eat, I might not, but either way we’ll cross that bridge in 15 minutes.
This delay shuts up the bickering voices and gives you the brain space necessary to make a better choice.
At first, your entire goal may be just to wait 15 minutes to delay that decision. After a while when you find that the delay is becoming more natural, you can then start addressing the underlying reasons for overeating. If you’re bored, that may mean finding a suitable replacement for entertainment. Similarly if eating at night has become a habit you can work on breaking the habit by finding a replacement habit. And if it is emotionally driven eating, addressing the underlying emotions will be key.
By waiting 15 minutes you can improve impulse control, solve the underlying issue, and create better choices for yourself.